DJ Lepke, founder of Dread Broadcasting Corporation (DBC), died on 14 March. Born Leroy Anderson, Lepke was the brother of radio presenter Ranking Miss P. In 1981 he acquired a medium wave transmitter from a friend and started broadcasting from his back garden on a Sunday afternoon.
Talking to Derek Walmsley and Shane Woolman on The Wire's Rewired programme in 2015, early DBC cohort Mike ‘The Bike’ Williams explains how it all began. “We were all one big happy Ladbroke Grove family,” he recalls. "Lepke took it [the transmitter] away and strung it up in his back garden in Neasden, because a medium wave transmitter is completely different to any other as far as you need a huge aerial – it's got to be really high and long.
“He [Lepke] used to make a couple of tapes. He was doing it for a few weeks. You used to get a phone call about 2 o'clock on a Sunday afternoon: ‘Yeah, it's Leroy. Are you tuned in?’ Course we weren't tuned in. So we'd go and get a radio. I didn't have a little portable one. The house I was living in had a music centre, so we used to switch it on and we couldn't hear a thing. So then he'd phone his sister, the Ranking Miss P, same thing: ‘You tuned in? Can you hear it?’ Of course you couldn't hear it. And we weren't that far away. So that went on, until one day the DTI [Department for Trade and Industry] came and busted him one lunchtime and they took the equipment away.”
Williams then went on to sell the tapes that had already been made, eventually raising enough money to invest in an FM transmitter.
Originally called Rebel Radio, DBC (a play on the name BBC) was the first black owned radio station in Europe and broadcast a wide range of black music. “I heard there was something in the 60s,” said Lepke in an interview on ricenpeas.com. “Some guys tried a lickle ting around here in Ladbroke Grove, Notting Hill in the 60s, but it didn’t last, it didn’t work.
“I started the station because at the time there was a need for black music to get more exposure: ie, basically reggae music,” he continues. “Then later on we moved on to broader black music. Earlier in the 70s I used to live in New York and I used to tune my radio in and hear pure black stations, Spanish etc… So from them times I was thinking, maybe that can go on in England still. I think the BBC had a strangle hold on the broadcasting at that time, because it was mainly BBC stations. So exposure for reggae music was only about a couple of hours a week, if that.”
Early DJs included Lepke himself, DJ Chucky (Douglas Wright) and Doctor Whattu. After some convincing, Lepke managed to get his sister on board – she later became the first black female DJ on Radio One, and after that, presenter of the Riddim And Blues Saturday night show broadcast by GLR.
Lepke was arrested once, and DBC main transmitter was confiscated, but the studio remained untouched, even as the authorities kept a watch on him. “The authorities were watching because in those days they just couldn’t believe that black people could come out and do this, do you know what I mean?” argues Lepke. "So they thought, 'There’s money going in there from somewhere else, someone is behind it'.’’
During its short reign, DBC was a popular station, with businesses paying for slots, providing playlists and requesting DJs to host shows. As noted on amfm.org.uk, those shows included “Dr Martin and Smiley with rhythm and blues, Luke The Duke with rock ’n’ roll, GT and ED with soul and funk, Gus Dada Africa with African music, Sis C (later to become Camilla on LWR) with 1960s soul, Neneh C (Neneh Cherry) with hiphop, Dr Watt with reggae oldies, Nick Coleman with jazz, and Dark Star (Lloyd Bradley) and Lady Di (his wife Diana) with soul.”
Inspired by DBC's example, many new stations sprang up. Once DBC stopped transmitting some of its DJs joined JBC. Lepke himself continued his service to the community, helping set up stations in Luton and Nottingham, as well as acting as adviser to Birmingham's Radio Star.
Lepke was the younger sibling of Bob Marley’s widow Rita. Reports say he died following a battle with heart disease. He was 63 years old.